If they have to wait, tell them why

Honesty will pay off in happier patients

Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, patients are going to be faced with a lengthy wait to see a physician. When this happens, keeping patients informed and giving them the opportunity to reschedule can go a long way toward keeping them happy, the experts say.

When patients get to the office, they should be told how much time they can expect to wait before seeing the physician and the reason for the delay, says Doug Hough, PhD, a partner with Arista Associates in Fairfax, VA. Like airlines, physician office personnel are getting a bad reputation for lying about how long the delay will be, he says.

In today’s market, a physician’s business integrity is almost as important as his or her professional integrity, he says. This means that every staff member should be honest about the length of the delay and the reason for it, Hough adds.

Physicians and their staff should keep in mind that patients often have to lose time at work to see a doctor; patients may be depending on someone else for transportation; or they may have an appointment at another doctor’s office.

"It seems simple for the receptionist to inform the patient who is waiting if the doctor is running late. Keeping the patients informed and giving them an opportunity to reschedule is good office management and good public relations with the patients," adds Randolph D. Smoak Jr., MD, president-elect of the American Medical Association.

Hough’s clients have reported that patients are usually understanding if they are told the doctor has had an emergency.

"If they are informed, their psychological clock doesn’t start ticking until the physician is back in the office," he adds.

Hough recalls a physician client who came up with an amazingly simple way to keep his patients happy while they were waiting to be seen.

The office was set up so that when the physician went from one examination room to another, he passed by the waiting room, made eye contact with the patients there, and told them he’d be with them soon.

"One of the things that drives patients crazy is when they have no idea whether the physician is even there. They think he’s on the phone or out to lunch. If they can see that the doctor is there and working hard, their frustration level goes down," he says.